Rory McIlroy fired the lowest first round in British Open history, a nine-under par 63, to seize a two-stroke lead on Thursday and outshine top-ranked Tiger Woods at the famed Old Course.
Magical McIlroy equalled the low round in any major, becoming the 22nd man to fire a 63, and only the eighth player in British Open history with a 63, the second at St. Andrews after Englishman Paul Broadhurst in 1990’s third round.
Had the 21-year-old from Northern Ireland not botched a five-foot birdie putt at the 17th, the fabled Road Hole, he would have stood alone in major golf history at the sport’s birthplace, where he has never fired worse than a 69. “It sort of went through my mind at the 17th tee that 62 would be the lowest round in a major. Probably why I missed the putt,” McIlroy said.
“I don’t think I can come off feeling let down. I’m leading the Open Championship.”
McIlroy took full advantage of ideal wind-less conditions on the defenceless Old Course to stand two ahead of South African Louis Oosthuizen and three atop Scotsman Andrew Coltart, England’s Steven Tiley and John Daly, the 1995 Open winner at St. Andrews.
“Going out there with no wind, you are never going to get St. Andrews playing any easier,” McIlroy said. “It gives me a little bit of a buffer out there going into the next three days.”
Woods, the 2000 and 2005 Open champion winner here, was four back on 67 after taking a bogey at 17 and missing a birdie putt at 18.
Woods shared sixth with fellow Americans Lucas Glover, Nick Watney and Sean O’Hair, German Marcel Siem, Spain’s Alejandro Canizares and Swede Fredrik Andersson Hed.
“Today felt awkward because there was absolutely no wind whatsoever and you never play a links course with no wind,” Woods said. “You had to take advantage of it. I felt like I did a pretty good job of that.”
A Road Hole bogey also cost Oosthuizen, who had a run of four birdies in a row starting at seven and two more at 14 and 15 before stumbling at 17 and scrambling for par at 18.
Winds arrived for afternoon starters, scores rising as a result, although third-ranked Lee Westwood birdied the last five holes on the front nine to make the turn at five-under then had a 25-foot birdie lip-out at 10. World number two Phil Mickelson, who opened with nine pars, was among nearly half of the field of 156 still on the course.
McIlroy shot the first British Open 63 since Nick Faldo and Payne Stewart in the last round at Royal St. George’s in 1993.